Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

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Archeo: Shinar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Let’s get one thing noted right now, because I know this is going to turn folks off: Archeo – Shinar is a game with the theme of 1920s archaeology, which, as fans of history may know, was colonialist as hell. The game embraces that as a thematic element, so you are not playing some philanthropist, but an asshole, employing assholes, exploiting land, meddling in ways that distort history, and the like. So be warned.

Yes, they are massive assholes.

Fortunately, it… Honestly isn’t the most engaging of games on its own. Essentially, it’s a 30 turn game, with two main segments: Planning and Management, and Expeditions. The planning phase is the meat of the game, but the expeditions are what mainly earn you the points, events, and interest of the game, with the expeditions being… Well, what your planning went toward, with some added risk management thrown in. Do you use the person good at Archeology now, or do you save him for a potential check down the line that might be much harder (or use another skill which you weren’t warned about, because he’s a really good everyman.) Succeed more than you fail, and you win reputation and money for your shameless plundering (earning artefacts you can sell on the black market for big successes, and phobias, debuffs for your explorers, on essentially chance.) Fail, and you get recompensed a small amount… Probably smaller than what you spent on it.

Oh look, it’s our old “buddy” Frans! He’s going to get a phobia in just a second, and he deserves it

Meanwhile, the management is where most things happen. Do you try and sell your story to one of the papers? Who do you hire? How do you train them? Do you make them take more risks, or play it much more cautiously? What do you bring along? And what land do you bid on, to exploit for bonuses down the line? In all of this, reputation is important. Build up a good rapport with one paper, you can use it to slander the other explorer(s). Get good land, and exploit it well, get nice things. Take a risky play on the black market that pans out? Free money, awwh yiss!

Thing is, a lot of this is, effectively, a black box, even on Easy. You know what things do, and you know what the majority of checks are going to be on an expedition, but a lot of it boils down to taking a chance. And, for me, at least, it didn’t really feel enjoyable. It looks good, with a simplified style that fits the period it’s representing, some nice music, and a mostly clear UX with good tooltipping, but its humour fell flat for me, its embracing of its theme (historically accurate though it may be) didn’t sit well with me, and playing it… Well, it didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing, even though I was staying afloat, and had a hotseat to fall back on to learn the game.

Yes, there is also a lootbox joke. SIGH.

And that, in the end, is what killed my engagement with it. Still, maybe others will find enjoyment, and that’s about the best I can personally say.

The Mad Welshman despises the bullshit the UK, among others has perpetuated over its history, not only in archaeology, but folklore, culture… A fair bit more than that, let’s say, in understated British fashion.

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Cliff Empire (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Last time I looked at Cliff Empire, it was aesthetically pleasing, with some exceptions, but, honestly, a god-damn mess to actually play. There was a lot of waiting, unclear resource imbalances, poor tutorialisation, and a trading UI that was as clear as mud, with Dead Man Walking scenarios everywhere.

Starts to construct a Matter Mi– Oh. No matter to make a matter mine with. CRAP.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the implicit subtext, with only decades passed since nuclear disaster, the survivors on a space station recolonising, and them recolonising literal ivory towers (Well, okay, some sort of white stone, but still) with the power of actually working for once, and bitcoin as currency… Well, suffice to say, despite the criticisms of the game being legitimate ones, I am much less sympathetic to the colonists in this game than I have been for many others. I have more sympathies for the marauders who occasionally crop up, even if they make my teeth grind, gameplay wise.

So yes, Cliff Empire is one of those colonisation survival games, where you start with limited resources, that you have to use efficiently, because getting more is dependent on several things, not all of which you know beforehand. Is this the tower you start on with 100% Uranium yield, 40% Uranium yield, or precisely fuck all? You don’t know. Is the soil fertile enough for crops to do well? You don’t know until much later on. Can you afford the Uranium from your somewhat richer masters up top, or will you just have to cope with what you can eke out? You don’t know.

And large towers were constructed by… Well, actually, why were they constructed, if what was left were rich people?

What you do know is how much groundwater there is in each tower, how well wind or solar power works there, and, the most obvious, if there’s a big honking pool of water that may contain enough fish worth harvesting, but definitely takes up valuable space which you could have used for one more maintennance panel.

Okay, so let’s briefly take a trip into “This is nice” town. The aesthetic is pretty cool. The music is chill and relaxing, the cities are neofuturist, and the inclusion of a tourist mode, where you can spend your spare time wandering around the city (sort of) is nice. On the downside, the trade UX still has that trap of “No clear input fields, so you butt your head against the lack of buttonage, when you’re actually meant to put numbers in the ‘sell if more’ and ‘buy if less’ fields” I complained about last time. But mechanically, it’s slow, it can be very trying, it has several Dead Man Walking scenarios, even in the early game, and then… There are the quests.

WELP. I had enough engines… But not enough were delivered in time. Not least because it takes a while to get more than the three drones you start with. What with concentrating on survival and all…

The bougie masters up top demand resources. And if they do not get those resources in time, you will lose some of the money you desperately need, and only have limited means of generating for yourself. Oh, and your colonists, if unemployed, despite being fed, given furniture (never enough), gadgets (never enough), appliances (never enough), and parks and other nice little perks, will steal from your coffers. Hell, sometimes, if you haven’t provided enough for the pampered little darlings, they’ll steal from your coffers anyway.

There is definitely potential in Cliff Empire, and maybe, one day, that potential will turn up, subtext of the narrative aside (Honestly, there’s not really any redemption on that front, especially in the current climate.) But it’s such a frustrating grind of a city builder, that I’m not having a good time, even with the relaxing music and nice aesthetic.

The Mad Welshman’s stance remains the same as it has been for quite a while: Eat the rich. Well, eat the rich who fertilise plants, the rich are quite unhealthy meals.

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Oxygen Not Included (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access 1

When you can tell a release candidate is a big step up from its Early Access, it’s not only a pleasant feeling, it’s a relief. A game you can point to and say “Nice, I enjoyed this!” And Oxygen Not Included, having rebalanced and added More Stuff to the usual Klei brand of “Games I Love, But Seem To Dislike Me (While Being Enjoyable To Play)”, is definitely one of those kinds of games. What interests me most about it is that it also retains that feeling of a slow fight of attrition against a difficult situation (Being trapped in the middle of an asteroid, with Oxygen in limited supply, and the means of making it in potentially limited supply, and… Look, there’s a lot of things I could affix “In limited supply” or “Of limited effectiveness” to, from food to water to power, and beyond.

“Wait, whose idea was it to import fish to flop around?” [answered only by angry squeaking]

But it’s not insurmountable, although it definitely feels that way in the early game sometimes, and the game rewards you for that struggle, that fight for survival, with cool things to find, and more information about why you, for some reason, are squeaking, honking clones, finding yourself in a tiny space at first, with absolutely no context beyond “Hey, you’ll die if you don’t work at the whole staying alive thing! Chop chop!”

And a part of what it’s added, although part of that may well be me having gotten better at things (With the exception of wiring… Le sigh) is that you get to see it more, before it starts pulling the gloves off. And, for players who want a challenge, or just a change, there are several different types of asteroids to be trapped in, from your bog standards, to your boggy standards, all the way to “Oh heck, why did someone even do this, putting us in this hellhole to die?”

Speaking of “Why would you even?” Jean… Ellie… WHY WOULD YOU EVEN?!?

Now, overall, it’s indirect management. I can’t say all of it’s good (It still, oddly, has the speed settings as a sort of throttle, so to go from “somewhat fast” to “normal” is two taps, but I can somewhat forgive that, especially as the sleep period seems to go by quicker), and reading tooltips is a must, but… Scalable UI. That’s good. Clear fonts. Cool. And very little that seemed to affect colourblindness, with the tooltips aiding in letting me know “This is coal, this is granite, and this is a chlorine filled mess you’ll probably have to go into with insufficient protection, because there’s useful things here. Hope your air plan is gooood, LOL!” Finally, there’s been some streamlining. Research is more clearly delineated, and levelling up a Duplicant is now at the base duplicator, rather than a thing requiring its own research. Nice!

And it’s these things, these seemingly small (But actually kind of big) changes that make the game friendlier, without, obviously, being too friendly. You’ll still, eventually, have to do dangerous things, overstretch yourself, and bar some duplicants from using machinery just to cut down on their commute. And you’ll still, occasionally, be yelling at them, despite a priority system, to “Argh, fix that, fix that, you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t AAAARGH.”

Pictured: The transcendent experience of education. Not Pictured: My electrical systems shorting and my coal generators slowly making the air worse.

But, for the most part, outside the really early game, that AARGH is a slower process, a process you can come back from, if you keep your head together. And, since Oxygen Not Included was already interesting and charming, not pretending to be anything other than it is, it remains highly recommended to fans of these indirect management survival games.

Just don’t come crying to me if your wiring overloads and starts a fire. Not least because I won’t be able to help you either.

No, really… The Mad Welshman sometimes has trouble remembering whether CHA FAN is a usable motherboard socket for… A fan. Don’t ask him about wiring.

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Abyss Manager (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Running a dungeon is, as we’ve seen multiple times in the thematic genre that is Dungeon Management (be it RTS, management sim, or some variety of adventure game), quite tough. There’s always those pesky murderhobos out to kill your monsters, raid your gold hoard, and ruin your plans for world domination, because apparently they’re the kind of jerks who don’t want the world to be under your totes-gentle-honest hand… Adventurers are such assholes.

AAARGH. I was researching workplace improvement, you bastards!

Unfortunately for Abyss Manager, it’s also currently a slow descent into hell to play. It is, on the one hand, turn based, so it gives you, in a sense, plenty of time to decide things. However, you are almost constantly assailed by adventurers, meaning that your two main considerations are “Where can I put my exhausted staff to productively recuperate their stamina?” and “Ohgod, who can I pull from one kind of work to fight this set of beefy bastards of various races?”

Progression in the game is, essentially, over grindy on Normal difficulty, with buildings costing many, many turns worth of work, tournaments between the various dungeon masters that totally aren’t mandatory… If you like having Prestige and Sponsorship for your dungeon, that is, and always, always, the choice between spending what renown you have (for lo, Altars don’t regenerate renown all that well), and whether swapping someone out will be worth the 20 stamina lost for retreating mid battle to be replaced, or if they can soooomehow survive the next turn, to make it slightly less painful to do so.

What do these sponsorships actually do? Couldn’t tell you.

Finally, on the gripes, the game doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Oh, it has tooltips, but tutorialisation is thin on the ground, and tooltips can only take you so far. So, that’s the gripes over with… What’s enjoyable?

Well, the sound effects and pixel aesthetic are alright, and a research tree which costs more the more you research (but can be researched in several different directions) is an alright idea. There’s a fair few races, lots of skills, exploration of the world… The problem being that aforementioned “Oh hey, you can’t do a lot of it a lot of the time, because you’re being assailed a whole hell of a lot, and you’re playing the stamina shuffle constantly (with the added annoyance that exploration and matches take several turns to complete, leaving you relatively open to attacks)

Everyone I can tag in from other work is tired. The adventurers keep coming, and we will not last out. – Last journal entry.

While Abyss Manager does have some interesting ideas, hot damn, it really needs to cut down on that grind, maybe explain things a little better, before I could really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman does, however, appreciate that running a lair is hard. His imps absolutely refuse to help with the dishes, for example.

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